In Defense of Food: Michael Pollan

I like to eat. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with a metabolism that is a rock star. The only special diets I have ever attempted were to gain weight, though my metabolism foiled those plans. My premise is that eating should be enjoyable. Thus I am a proponent of savoring food and not getting paranoid about nutrition.

A few weeks ago I read Michael Pollan’s wonderful argument for this in In Defense of Food. His main thesis is “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Good advice.

I appreciate Pollan’s through research and ability to take scientific material and present it in a manner that is easy to read. I also enjoy the way he presents an argument, not claiming to be impartial or an absolute authority, but rather an interpretor of facts and clues and information. His conclusions aren’t a collection of rules, as witnessed by the thesis statement I wrote above.

On page 157 Pollan managed to use the phrase “. . . silence of the yams . . .” which further solidifies him as my hero.

In the book Pollan examines the current obsession with analyzing nutrient intake, as well as providing a few thoughts on healthy eating. I found the background on nutritional studies fascinating. The advice on healthy eating did not radically change me, but it did make me think about unit bias and quantity versus quality. I am guilty of eating whatever is in front of me (I tend to cook for a family of three and then eat it all). As a practical step in responding to this I’ve been changing some of my portioning in cooking; I still have not overcome my aversion to most leftovers (which fuels my motivation to eat everything I cook at once).

In closing, here is an amazing coincidence I must tell you about. I read frequently. I have no idea how many books I have read, but it’s a long list. Prior to reading In Defense of Food  I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch (I finished the book on March 14, which I am certain you will agree is quite close to the middle of March, and once I realized my timing it gave me great pleasure. But this is not the coincidence that I referenced earlier, it is far more dramatic than that.) I heard of Middlemarch for the first time this past fall, when it was recommended to me three times. So I read it. I enjoyed it. The characters are very rich and real (my favorite being the noble, bug-collecting, gambling, clergyman Camden Farebrother). One of the characters in the book is Dr Casaubon. It is Dr Casaubon that is the coincidence, for he is referenced explicitly by Pollan in In Defense of Food. This is not a passing mention, Pollan compares the work of researchers on omega-3 fats with the research of Dr Casaubon (which is most unflattering for the omega-3 researchers). That is amazing to me. I have gone through my life unaware of Middlemarch, then I finally read it and the very next book I read (which is a non-ficiton book about food) has a direct reference to it*. Crazy.

If you had given me the opportunity to wager on a direct reference to Middlemarch appearing in In Defense of Food before I began reading the book I would now be penniless, for I would have bet everything I own against it**.

*You might be thinking, you only noticed the reference because you just read the book. You may have encountered other references in the past that you missed. To this I would say, that is unlikely sir or madam, highly unlikely. I am the sort of reader that feels compelled to investigate references and passing mentions. Had I encountered Middlemarch before I would have remembered it.

**If I were a betting man.


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